To address the spread of infection and overdose among drug users, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Health Minister Marisol Touraine opened a drug room – “a safe place where drug addicts can inject under medical supervision.”
Opened in October, the facility, called the Supervised Drug Injection Site (SCMR), more commonly known in France as the “shooting gallery,” is located near Gare de Nord. This is one of Paris’ largest train stations and an easy place to find drugs.
The first of its kind in France, the SCMR allows drug users to take drugs in a safe environment under medical supervision. They also give users free access to sterile needles to prevent the spread of viral infections. According to Touraine, as many as one in ten hard drug users are HIV-positive and up to one in four have hepatitis C.
The SCMR works with the French government and Gaïa Paris, an organization that helps treat drug addiction and allows users to exchange hard drugs with safer substitutes.
At the facility, users are placed in rooms where they can take their injections. And while medical professionals are present, no staff member is allowed to physically help visitors administer injections – visitors must administer injections themselves. The staff is only allowed to intervene if a visitor can’t find a vein or in cases of overdose.
Touraine believes the SCMR is a milestone in French public health strategy and called it “a strong political response for a pragmatic and responsible policy that brings high-risk people back towards the health system rather than stigmatizing them.”
However, others feel like the facility does not combat drug addiction.
Philippe Goujon, a member of the French Parliament, is against the facility and said he believes it is the first step for allowing the decriminalization and legalization of illegal drug use.
“The state is saying, ‘you can’t take drugs, but we’ll help you do it anyway,” he told Le Figaro.
The first drug injection center was opened in Switzerland in 1986. In 2010, “the number of drug injectors with HIV has been reduced by over 50 percent in 10 years,” according to Dr. Ambros Uchtenhagen, chair of the Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction at Zurich University.
A report released by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Action found that there is limited data in how effective facilities are, but it still suggests the centers have “an overall positive impact” in the communities they are placed in.
The report went on to say: “There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime.”
2011 evaluations of a drug room in Sydney, Australia showed an 80 percent decrease in ambulance calls to Kings Cross. The same supervised injection center also “successfully managed more than 4,400 drug overdoses without a single fatality.”
France is the tenth country to set up drug rooms, according to Touraine, and there are plans to open two more in Strasbourg and in Bordeaux.
By Amanda Delgado